Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Immersion Study Abroad in Mexico: Using Repair Behaviors to Assess Proficiency Changes

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Immersion Study Abroad in Mexico: Using Repair Behaviors to Assess Proficiency Changes

Article excerpt


Repair behavior in university-level students was investigated to determine if students who study abroad use repair behavior differently from students who do not. The Mexico group (N = 24) studied Conversational Spanish at La Salle University, Cancun. The U.S. group (N = 9) completed the same course at Friends University, Wichita, Kansas. Pretest and posttest interviews were transcribed and analyzed for the following self-repairs: language switch, appeal for assistance, word form search, circumlocution, utterance expansion, and global revision. Results indicated that language switch, the most commonly used repair in both groups, decreased as L2 proficiency increased. The Mexico group used word form search more frequently, suggesting increased determination, competency, and self-confidence. This study affects L2 teachers who can encourage students to speak more spontaneously by allowing them time to self-repair without interruption.


Investigations of communication strategies, including repair behaviors, have gained a prominent place in recent second language acquisition (SLA) research. Repair behaviors are defined as cither self-repair (-when the speaker recognizes the need for change) or other-repair (when the speaker is alerted by the listener of the need for change). This study is an examination of self-repair strategies "surface manifestations of psycholinguistic processes" (Liskin-Gasparro, 1996, p. 318). This research focuses on identification, categorization, expansion, and hierarchical arrangement of self-repairs, which result in an analytical tool that can be used by L2 teachers. Language repairs are also described as a strategy used to assist the learner to acquire language and to maintain communicative interactions. It is surprising to note that the knowledge gained from the results of the studies in linguistics and communication sciences and disorders1 has not been universally applied to the field of SLA. It seems reasonable that a blending of the research from various fields such as SLA and linguistics could yield new information about repair strategies. Teachers of L2 students could potentially benefit from this information about the development and use of communication strategies as a way to assess learning and progress in language acquisition.

Early Definitions

Early discussions of linguistic repair focused solely on describing the specific error (Fromkin, 1973; Fry, 1973; Laver, 1973). Generally, speech error was defined as a break in the flow of speech production (Freud, 1960; Lashley 1961; Meringer, 1908), and repair behavior, as correction. Research, therefore, focused on detecting and defining the error in order to correct it.

Errors were variously described as slips of the tongue, mistakes, blunders, contaminations, or lapses.

Schegloff, Jefferson, and Sacks (1977) denned repair behavior as word correction and claimed that speakers tend to prefer self-repair. In earlier research, Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson (1974) stated that repairs occurred within the context of errors in conversational turn-taking behaviors. These authors described self-initiated self-repair as that which occurs in the same turn, and happens when a speaker corrects an utterance in mid-discourse. They observed repair in overlapping talk between two individuals when one speaker stopped prematurely and repaired the trouble. "Excuse me," false starts, repeats, and premature stopping were denned as interruption markers but were not part of the actual act of repairing according to the authors. In the 1980s, researchers began to define and investigate repair behaviors as more than correction. While early studies emphasized the defining of L2 repair behavior (Burt & Kiparsky 1972; Corder, 1967a; Faerch & Kasper, 1980, 1983), Seliger's (1980) research distinguished between correction and repair. He indicated that the speaker was aware of grammar and linguistic planning, while repairing was an overt strategy associated only with an evolving competence. …

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